Last Thanksgiving Eve, Ben Weprin – back in Dayton from his Nashville home – was having dinner with his family in a back booth at the Pine Club.
Once a noted Oakwood High School basketball player, he’s now the founder and CEO of AJ Capital Partners, the Chicago-based real estate investment firm that’s not only rejuvenated resorts and hotels from the Caribbean and Miami to Napa Valley and Chicago, but also has launched dozens of the boutique Graduate Hotels that are located near some of the best-known college campuses in the nation and cater to nostalgia and local storytelling.
He’s been written up in recent years in everything from Forbes to the Irish Times and the New York Times, where the accounts included references to his friendships with the likes of former NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning and billionaire John Pritzker.
But on this night, A-listers like that would have been totally eclipsed by the smiling man who entered the front of the iconic Brown Street restaurant and eventually spotted Weprin waving at him.
“I’ve been all over the world, but I’ve never encountered anybody even remotely as dynamic and fun and outrageous as him,” Weprin said. “He’s the first celebrity I ever met and there’ll never be another one as big as him.”
He was talking about Rich Kidd, the popular Chaminade-Julianne assistant basketball coach, who was – as former CJ head coach Joe Staley called him a couple of days ago – the “Pied Piper” of Dayton athletes everywhere.
“I’m telling you, he’s the guy who started it all for me,” Weprin said. “I call myself a serial entrepreneur and I got it all from him. He was my teacher. He was my Mr. Miyagi.
“He’s the most loved guy I’ve ever been around.”
So many other people felt the same way about Kidd last Thanksgiving Eve that it took him forever to make his way to Weprin’s table.
“It was like he knew every single person in the restaurant and he stopped at every table,” Weprin laughed. “Eventually my steak came and by the time Rich got back to us, we were done eating.”
The warm, communal embrace came not just because so my people knew Kidd, but they knew what he represented.
“He had such a big heart,” Staley said. “If a kid couldn’t afford basketball shoes, he helped them pay for them. When we went out to eat, if kids were short, he took care of it.”
Kidd not only helped CJ athletes, but those from schools across the Miami Valley, believe in themselves and get others, including college recruiters, to believe in them, as well.
Following the Pine Club night last year, Kidd was invited to the Weprin family’s Thanksgiving gathering the following day at the Centerville home of Ellen Weprin, Ben’s mother.
“Uncle Rich was part of my family,” Weprin said. “He had a relationship with every single person in my family: my brother, my parents, my sister…and now my own kids.”
Last Thanksgiving the Weprin home was Kidd’s fourth stop – his fourth dinner – of the day.
This year everything is so different.
A month after sitting at the turkey table with Ben and his family, Kidd joined the CJ basketball team for a trip to San Antonio, Texas, to play a Dec. 27 game in a Catholic tournament there.
It’s likely that’s where he was exposed to COVID. So was head coach Charlie Szabo.
Szabo, who was fully vaccinated, recovered soon after getting the virus.
Kidd did not.
He began to feel ill a day after returning to Dayton, Staley said, and for a few days he stayed holed up in his home across from Alter High School.
But his condition worsened and when friends found him in severe distress, he was rushed to Miami Valley Hospital.
John Riazzi – a longtime friend of Kidd’s who had taken him on as a partner after he’d bought and began the restoration of The Steam Plant, the abandoned 120-year old DPL facility on E. Third Street that’s now a magnificent space for weddings and other gatherings – got the unexpected call that his pal’s condition was dire.
Although he was not permitted to visit Kidd in the COVID section of the hospital, Riazzi joined the vigil just beyond it.
But within two days -- on Jan. 10 -- the 56-year-old Kidd died.
Weprin said he got the numbing news in two simultaneous phone calls, one from former University of Dayton player and friend Alex Robertson and the other from UD booster Dr. Steve Levitt.
“That just gutted me,” Weprin said quietly. “I’m still devastated by it.”
It’s the same for Staley: “I’m still not over it. I think of him every day.”
Richard Kidd Classic set for Dec. 4
Chip James was a seventh grader taking part in a University of Dayton summer camp when he first met Kidd. He stayed connected with him when he became a hoops standout at Springboro High, played at LeMoyne College in Syracuse and later coached Dayton Christian to the state semifinals in 2009.
Now living in Washington Township, working full time in real estate and volunteering at Dayton Christian, he said he was stunned by Kidd’s death:
“It hit me hard and it still hurts, but eventually I realized I was one of the lucky ones who got to know him for 25 years. For that I’m thankful.
“But what really hit me was when I realized no more kids in the Miami Valley would get that from him.”
Kidd’s funeral was held at The Steam Plant and Riazzi remembers some 400 people in the visitation line.
It was at the funeral that Weprin, James and Josh Johnson, the former standout Centerville athlete and successful local businessman, began to talk about keeping Rich Kidd’s memory alive. They eventually looped in Staley who, Weprin said, has done the heavy lifting since.
In 10 days their dream becomes a reality.
They’ve put together the first Richard Kidd Classic, a high school basketball showcase that will include three games at Centerville, which is giving them use of the gym for free.
The Dec. 4 tripleheader opens with a 3 p.m. game between Ponitz and Northmont. At 4:45, Chaminade Julienne will meet Meadowdale, followed by Alter vs. Dunbar at 6:30.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and students and can be purchased by going to the Centerville High website at: goelksathletics.com.
Staley said all proceeds will go to scholarships for basketball players who are “gym rats,” get good grades and want to play non-scholarship Division III basketball, but can’t afford the venture.
Although he coached at CJ, Kidd graduated from Patterson, which was a Dayton Public Schools facility. He worked as a DPS carpenter and for decades especially helped DPS athletes better themselves.
Because the Classic was organized just recently and many schools’ schedules already were filled, getting a six-team field was not easy.
By happenstance, Staley said they ended up with a DPS school in each game:
“Ben Weprin said, ‘You know, the way it turned out is pretty serendipitous.’
“That’s not a word I use, but I guess it fits.
“This is serendipity.”
‘He just had this way about him’
In his early years, Kidd lived on Rose Street in Springfield.
Staley said Kidd was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist and his parents didn’t allow him to play sports:
“I think that’s why, as he got older, he was drawn to basketball and especially the athletes themselves.
“The first time I really noticed him was in 1989. We had a real good team back then and after a big win, I remember coming out of the locker room and more than a 100 kids were gathered in the parking lot for a party.
“Rich was a few years older and he had his jeep parked there with these big speakers and the music was blaring.
“Right then, I thought ‘This guy is something.’”
Staley said after that Kidd came to every open gym and summer league game and became a fixture at the Eagles’ regular season games.
Within three or four years, Staley said he made him an assistant coach with the freshman team. By 2000, Kidd was on the varsity bench. When Staley retired after the 2019 season and Szabo took over, Kidd’s role didn’t change
“We could have one of the worst practices and I could be really hard on the kids and then Rich would walk in. And within two minutes everyone was smiling and the energy had picked up,” Staley said. “He just had this way about him.”
While he was coaching, Kidd worked his DPS job and eventually, with Riazzi as a silent financial partner, he bought a few rental properties.
He also owned a barbershop – Rich’s Distinguished Cuts – on Catalpa Drive.
The walls were decorated with some local sports mementoes and the barbers’ chairs sometimes held even more impressive figures.
“Tom Izzo got his hair cut there once,” Staley said.
Obi Toppin and other UD players sometimes came in.
“He almost had Obama in there, too,” Staley laughed. “He did, at least, get his picture taken with him.”
Actually, it’s surprising he didn’t get the President to his place.
Kidd had a knack for getting what and where he wanted.
“He was an old school hustler and an all-time con artist and I say that in the best of ways,” Weprin said with a laugh wrapped around his respect.
“I remember Jonathan (Powell) and I worked for Rich in the summer. We painted houses for him and cut lawns and we never got paid. But I didn’t care because he was so much fun to be around. And besides, we didn’t spend any money that summer either.
“Rich taught me how to sneak to into UD Arena and Kings Island. And Cedar Point, too.”
When Kidd died, Weprin wrote an email that got a lot of social media mileage for the hyperbolized musings of his mentor.
The post began:
“A few things that Rich taught me that remain facts are:
-- “Darnel Hahn and Alex Robertson are the greatest Dayton Flyers of all time.
--”CJ is the greatest high school basketball program in the history of the game and Coach Staley is basically James Naismith.”
-- “Dayton Public Schools are the Harvard of the Midwest
--”Chicken Louie’s is the greatest wing in America.
--”Never pay full price for anything.
-- “Tickets are just a suggestion to an event (go through the players’ entrance and tell them you’re with the band.)
“Uncle Rich is the only person in the world that never waited for a table at the Pine Club. I don’t know how he did it, neither does President Bush.”
‘He was a great role model’
James said when they first met, Kidd told him he was the brother of hoops great Jason Kidd:
“I was in seventh grade, I believed him. We all did. We didn’t know he was joking.”
Then because someone said he looked like Deion Sanders, Kidd claimed they were related, too.
All this was done tongue in cheek and after he fessed up, it still helped him. Kids were drawn to his charm and that made them more receptive to the things he really believed in and he really was about.
“He was a great role model,” Staley said. “He didn’t drink, he didn’t cuss. He was a successful businessman and he really believed in the goodness of kids.”
As Riazzi explained it: “His purpose in life was to try to lift up younger people he felt needed to be given a competitive edge. He was passionate about trying to level the playing field so all kids would have an opportunity to shine.”
James said Kidd’s influence is partly what’s drawn him back as a volunteer coach at Dayton Christian, after once lifting the Crusaders to their greatest hoops moment as a team:
“There’s a thing called the ripple effect and Rich had one unlike anybody else in the Dayton area that I know.
“You touch a life and create a ripple and who knows how many other lives are touched because of it. Those ripple effects are unbelievable and coaches and teachers have the special opportunity to spread them.
“But Rich took it to a whole ‘nother level.
“I remember at his funeral standing there talking to a guy from Wayne High and to Brooks Hall, who played at Troy. None of us went to CJ, but we all were touched Rich Kidd.
“And that’s why we decided we had to keep those ripples going. That’s s what this Classic is about.”
Riazzi thinks it’s a “great” idea:
“I think this is just a start. I think it’s going to be successful. There are so many people out there who think of Rich often and want to do something.
“This is a way not to let his legacy die out.”